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The Real Reason Stephen King Never Cashed His Shawshank Check

Sometimes, a heartfelt gift and a gentle ribbing are worth more than a few bucks.

The 1994 drama The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best-loved films in all of cinema, and although it didn't set the box office on fire during its theatrical run, it has since generated a ton of money in home video rentals and catalog sales for Warner Bros. Even so, it never did blow up the bank account of the guy who wrote the novella on which it was based: Master of Horror Stephen King. Not only was King paid a paltry sum by director Frank Darabont for the right to adapt his story "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," but the author never even actually cashed Darabont's check.

A bit of background: the short story in question was the opening installment in King's 1982 compilation Different Seasons, which contained a quartet of novellas that were more straightforwardly dramatic (and less horrific) than is typical of King. The book is an oft-overlooked part of King's oeuvre, but three of its four stories have been adapted to film in smashing fashion — in addition to "Rita Hayworth," the story "Apt Pupil" provided the basis for the acclaimed and disturbing 1998 film of the same name, and "The Body" was adapted into director Rob Reiner's 1986 classic Stand By Me.

Darabont had cut his teeth as a filmmaker with a 1983 short film adaptation of King' short story "The Woman in the Room," and by the late '80s, he had started to make a name for himself as the screenwriter of such horror flicks as A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob, and The Fly II. Although he was finding some success as a writer for hire, Darabont was determined to break into directing — and to that end, he approached King about acquiring the rights to "Rita Hayworth." King agreed, and Darabont cut a check for $5,000 (via Wall Street Journal).

Frank Darabont almost didn't direct The Shawshank Redemption

With the rights to King's story in hand, Darabont wrote the screenplay, which was quickly noticed by Hollywood executives. In particular, Castle Rock Entertainment co-founder Martin Schafer was keen to get the film made — with the company's other co-founder, Reiner, directing. Since Stand By Me had been a massive success, the move seemed like a no-brainer — especially when Shafer and Reiner offered Darabont a whopping $2.5 million just to relinquish his rights.

Amazingly, Darabont — after taking a night to think about the offer — turned it down. "It was never an option," the director would later say. "Most of it boils down to, 'Why are we here?' [Making Shawshank Redemption] was a passion I was very determined to pursue and not just sell to the highest bidder."

Sticking to those guns turned out to be a pretty good career move. The flick, Darabont's directorial debut, was nominated for seven Academy Awards and continues to be a mainstay of VOD catalogs and cable television to this day. He would go on to field acclaimed adaptations of King stories The Green Mile and The Mist — which probably helped to get him in the door at AMC, where he developed The Walking Dead, one of the most successful serials of the last decade.

And to think that it all began with a check for five thousand bucks — a check which King, who was doing pretty darned well for himself by the late '80s, never felt the need to cash. Instead, a few years after Shawshank Redemption's release, the author had it framed and mailed it back to Darabont with an inscription: "In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve."